The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

To fund budget requests, commissioners look to state appropriations

 

December 7, 2017



After two days of discussions, Wahkiakum County commissioners are a bit closer to setting their 2019 budgets.

They spent Monday and Tuesday meetings discussing levy numbers and last minute requests from department heads and supporters of the Cathlamet town library.

With Commissioner Blair Brady out of town, collegues Dan Cothren and Mike Backman put off some decisions so that Brady could participate.

A resolution for adoption of the budget will come later this month.

At the top of the list this week was the request from the Town of Cathlamet for funding for the town library. Over 50 percent of library card holders live outside the city limits who pay a $10 annual card fee for individuals, $18 for families, and $4 for children.

Librarian Carol Blix asked the commission to consider a request of $10,000 for the library. This would help cover the $2,000 annual cost of the library's automated circulation system, increasing the internet connection speed, library hours, book purchases, and so on.

Library supporters could seek a special election to form a library district, she said, but voters might not want to add that to tax bills.

"An appropriation of $5,000 would be a win-win for all," Librarian Carol Blix said at Monday's public hearing on the budget. "We wouldn't have to increase library fees.

Puget Island resident Sylvia Costich, a retired municpal clerk/treasurer, objected to the idea of a taxing library district.

"If it were formed, I would be paying a lot more than I would pay for a card," she said, and if the county supported the library, it would be much less cost to the taxpayers."

She added that the county budget would have sufficient funding for the $5,000 appropriation.

Commissioners Backman and Cothren said they support the library, but they weren't ready to act on the request.

They commented that there is also a library in the community center at Johnson Park in Rosburg, and they feel they should support that library to the same level as the Cathlamet library.

Cothren said he wants to wait for the legislature to pass the state's Capital Budget, which it failed to do this year. That budget contains appropriations to compensate the county for lost harvest on trust timberland encumbered by endangered species habitat restrictions.

"I'm not willing to move, so we're going to wait and see," he said. "I support the library as much as anyone else, but I want to see how much is in the Capital Budget."

Backman agreed, saying the board should wait for the Capital Budget and for the return of Brady, so that all three commissioners can vote on the issue.

During the board's regular meeting Tuesday, District Court Judge Heidi Heywood repeated her request to raise her department's two clerks one step up the pay scale, as has been done for the Superior Court clerk's office.

Heywood was appointed to the position in September; she said she didn't understand the process for making the requests in the board's budgeting process. The raises would cost an additional $6,694.44, she said.

Prosecuting Attorney Dan Bigelow made a similar request for two staff members in his office. The cost would be less than $5,000 per year.

Again, Bigelow said he missed the budget preparation meetings because of a family emergency.

"This year, I made my budget plan before the revenue forecast was complete," he said in a written request. "Personal tragedy left me without sufficient time to adjust, so the county received a budget request that reflected a bare bones approach that leaves two of my employees in a position that suffers in comparison to other courthouse employees."

"I believe that if we can find it, we should do this and for the prosecuting attorney," Backman said. He asked for a workshop so that commissioners and courthouse officials could identify revenue sources for the raises. Clerk of the Board Beth Johnson said she would try to schedule a meeting before the commission's regular meeting next Tuesday.

"You can have all the workshops you want, but until we have that Capital Budget, I'm not going to budge," Cothren commented.

The board is counting on healthy appropriations from the state relating to the county's trust timberlands in order to balance the Current Expense Fund budget, which includes most courthouse services.

The board expects $1.1 million from the harvest of timber on the county's state managed trust land, and it hopes to receive another $2 million in compensation for encumbered lands.

Based on current values, the commission will need to divert $447,440.04 from the County Road Levy to Current Expense to balance the budget, Assessor Bill Coons said Tuesday. That would generated a total Current Expense levy of $992,614.04, an increase over the 2017 levy.

Commissioners said they want to increase the county tax levies 1 percent, the limit they raise taxes without seeking approval from voters.

On Monday, Costich objected to the way the county shows the use of state Criminal Justice funding. The funds are held in a reserve and then transferred to the Current Expense Fund which contains little detail on how they're used. According to state funding authority, they're only to be used for law enforcement and judicial expenses, but there isn't sufficient detail to tell how the funds are used, she said.

The process has been approved by state auditors, Auditor Diane Tischer replied. The monies are distributed to the sheriff's department, jail, courts, coroner and other related expenses.

 

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